Current Exhibition

The Joy of Giving: Christmas Chapbooks

December 3, 2018 – January 11, 2019

The chapbook is a form of popular literature printed, starting in early modern Europe, from the 16th century forward. Early versions were cheaply printed and varied from a couple of pages to a few dozen pages. Usually used to print short stories, political or religious tracts, or poetry, they became a favorite mechanism for publishing limited runs of personal poetry, family history, or short stories for limited distribution. The origin of the term chapbook came into use in the 1800’s. Itinerant peddlers or “Chapmen” would sell simple paperbound booklets to people for a few pennies. The term chapbook came to encompass all short run, soft bound booklets, usually focused on a single topic.

The Christmas chapbook is a unique subset within this genre. At one time, they were more widely printed and distributed, but as early as 1899, the New York Times noted in an article the decline in privately printed chapbooks and mourned the loss of the tradition. Typically containing short stories, memoirs, or poetry, they were printed and given as gifts to family and friends during the holiday season. A number of letterpress printers have produced them over the years to give as gifts to family and friends. One of the more intimate forms of ephemera, they are relatively difficult to collect due to limited production, the fragility of being paper bound, and the fact that those given as gifts are usually treasured by the recipients, and held in family collections.

Within the fine press and letterpress community, the Christmas Chapbook, a winter tradition, and personal art form that writers and printers distributed to family and friends, is a rare gift among the lucky few who still receive them. This exhibition will focus primarily on those produced by letterpress printers in the last century, featuring works from the permanent collection of the Book Club of California, as well as from the personal collection of the curator and several companions of the Moxon Chappel who have graciously agreed to loan from their personal collections.

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